Russia strikes ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, killing militants, destroying command point: Ministry

 A frame grab taken from footage released Oct 1, 2015, shows a Russian military jet taxiing on runway shortly after the landing in Syria. Russia estimates its air strike campaign in Syria could last three to four months, the head of the foreign affai
A frame grab taken from footage released Oct 1, 2015, shows a Russian military jet taxiing on runway shortly after the landing in Syria. Russia estimates its air strike campaign in Syria could last three to four months, the head of the foreign affairs committee at the State Duma, Russia's parliament, said on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia has carried out air strikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stronghold of Raqqa and destroyed infrastructure "used to train terrorists", the Defence Ministry said on Friday (Oct 2).

"On Oct 1, Su-34 planes carried out strikes on an ISIS training camp... and on a camouflaged command post... south-west of the town of Raqqa," the ministry said.

"As a result of the strikes, the ISIS command point was put out of action. The infrastructure used to train terrorists was completely destroyed."

At least 12 militants from the ISIS group were also killed in Russia's first air strikes on the extremist faction's main Syrian bastion, a monitoring group said.

"Last night, Russian strikes on the western edges of Raqa city, and near the Tabqa military airport, killed 12 ISIS jihadists," Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on Friday.

He said their bodies were transported to a hospital in the province.

The attack on the jihadists could be used by Putin, who arrived in Paris for talks with the leaders of France and Germany, to counter growing Western scepticism of what exactly Russia is targeting in Syria.

Russia insists it is bombing ISIS and other groups, but the US and Western nations believe it is trying to shore up its long-time ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia's air strikes in Syria will lead to a further escalation of the conflict, members of the US-led coalition against ISIS warned on Friday, calling on Moscow to immediately stop targeting Syrian opposition forces.

"These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalisation," seven countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States said in a statement published on the website of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

"We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians," added the statement, which was also published on the websites of the German and French foreign ministries.

It said that Russia should "focus its efforts on fighting ISIL", using an alternative name for ISIS.

The statement expressed "deep concern" over Russia's air strikes which "led to civilian casualties and did not target" ISIS.

The seven countries supporting the joint declaration are Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.

It was published following intensive diplomacy on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York which saw Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu meet his US counterpart John Kerry late on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday accused Russia of targeting moderate Syrian rebels in its air strikes in Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking to Turkish reporters on his plane as he returned from the UN General Assembly in New York, Mr Davutoglu rejected Moscow's insistence that its campaign of air strikes launched this week was aimed at ISIS.

"The outcome is very worrisome," Mr Davutoglu was quoted as saying in several Turkish dailies including Hurriyet and Milliyet.

"The operation has been entirely against positions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)," he said, referring to the main moderate armed group fighting Mr Assad and which Turkey supports.

"This is clearly supporting the Syrian regime which is on the verge of collapse," he added. "I don't think it will be of benefit to destroy the moderate opposition."

Russia and Turkey have been at odds over the Syrian conflict since the unrest erupted in 2011, with Ankara calling for the ousting of Mr Assad but Moscow one of his most important supporters.

Mr Davutoglu said while Iran, Mr Assad's other main international ally, was providing backing with military personnel on the ground, Russia was supporting the regime from the air. "And until now, it was namely Russia and Iran who were speaking out against the need for outside intervention in Syria," he said.

Turkey was initially wary of taking tough action against the IS jihadists who have captured swathes of Syria.

But Ankara is now seen as a full member of the US-led coalition against the militants and has carried out its own air strikes on their positions inside Syria.

Mr Davutoglu complained that the positions hit by Russia in its Syria air campaign would "benefit ISIS".

The prime minister said that Russia's military support for the Assad regime had been no secret, pointing to the Russian warships that had been seen sailing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul in recent weeks. "What they were carrying and where they were going, everyone knows," said Mr Davutoglu.

Russia's strikes in Syria came just a week after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin and attend the opening of a new mosque. It is still unclear if Putin gave Erdogan any advance warning of Russia's plan for the air strikes at the talks.

Mr Davutoglu said that Russia had still not provided a full report of "where the intervention had taken place".